The Vision of Escaflowne
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 1 of
The Vision of Escaflowne ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
The Vision of Escaflowne ?
Unlike Princess Tutu, which I've seen about four times, the last time I watched The Vision of Escaflowne was in the infancy of my anime fandom, and I saw it on fansubbed VHS. This means that I'm going into the show with only vague memories of it (great music, mixed feelings about the second half and ending, a tendency to giggle during the ending theme), so if you haven't ever seen it or like me last saw it many years ago, we'll be in the same boat.
In some ways, The Vision of Escaflowne is one of the grandmothers of the modern isekai story. It came on the heels of El Hazard (1995) and Fushigi Yugi (1996), and like both of those features a perfectly unassuming high school student being whisked away to another world. Like the kids of El Hazard, Hitomi appears to have some special powers in Gaea – namely, visions of the future, which are possibly tied to the pendant her grandmother gave her. And like in Fushigi Yugi, people back on Earth know that she's disappeared – and they're worried about her. There's some definite overlap on a few fronts with Kyoko Hikawa's 1993-2003 manga From Far Away, too, which adds something to watching the show now, because it kind of feels like seeing how the isekai genre took shape.
All that academic stuff aside, these two episodes really don't pull their punches. Hitomi's visions are almost exclusively of disasters – Van dying, Fanelia burning, etc. – and she can't always prevent them from happening. This is shown over the course of both episodes, with Hitomi successfully saving Van in episode one only to be unable to prevent the fall of his kingdom, Fanelia, which makes it seem like this power is just as much a curse as a gift. Previous to Van somehow materializing on the track at her school, Hitomi's life was very normal: she played with her Tarot cards, ran track, had a crush on Amano-sempai, and no one in a giant mech tried to kill her. The shift from normal to dangerous happens in a matter of seconds, and there's a real sense that she's still in the process of trying to absorb everything that's happened to her in what feels like under twenty-four hours as episode two closes. Not only can she suddenly see Earth in the sky behind the moon, but she's seen more violence than she's ever witnessed before, and it's real, not on television.
The show does a very good job of showing us this in the sheer horror of the violence in both episodes. This is not some fluffy shoujo story – there's blood and gore and, more to the point, deaths that feel senseless. Escaflowne's introductory episodes aren't just transporting Hitomi to Gaea or introducing Van as a love interest; they're showing us the start of a war, and when kingdoms fall, it's never pretty. If there were some sort of prize for the introduce-name-kill time for a character, this show would definitely be in the running. But what it does is put Van and Hitomi on an equal level, despite how things began: she's a girl out of place in another world, and he's a boy-king who was crowned and lost his country in the space of one afternoon. Neither of them has a clear place to belong anymore, and finding that place together is now one of their only options.
All of this works not only because the episodes are so willing not hold anything back, but also because the level of detail and world building is truly impressive. It's clear that someone thought of every single little factor of how the dragon and the mecha (melefs in-world) functioned, from the flame sacs on the dragon's chest to the controls on the eponymous mech. We learn enough about Fanelia in the brief time we have there to actually understand that it was a country in trouble even before the invisibility cloaked attackers showed up – Van's brother Folken ran away rather than take the crown, and Van, who wasn't raised to be the heir, is trying his damnedest to fill that role, and is under a huge amount of pressure from a variety of grizzled old advisors to do it. If Van hadn't come back from his dragon hunt, Fanelia may have crumbled under its own weight anyway; it's just doubly bitter that it looked for a brief moment as if it was going to work out.
We haven't seen much from Hitomi as a person yet, but what we do know is that she's got the guts to ask her crush to kiss her and has a relatively quick temper and an aversion to doing exactly what she's told. Van has even less personality right now, beyond “tries hard to be noble,” although we do see his more human side when he briefly interacts with Merle, the obligatory cat girl. (Merle, however, actually acts like a cat with her twitching tail and antics, and so gets major points.) But now that they've both been forced out of their homes, we should start getting to know them as people in the coming episodes, and taking its time to develop them is actually more of a good sign than not.
This is one journey made better by Yoko Kanno's astoundingly beautiful soundtrack (although I have to admit that the ending theme still cracks me up for no good reason), with each track calibrated perfectly to add to the scene it's backing. The most notable thing about the art is fact that you could put an eye out on those noses, but once you get used to it, it mostly stops being a distraction, and as I said before, the level of detail more than makes up for it. This isn't going to be a sweet and happy story, but it is one that grabs you and pulls you in, so buckle up (like in Van's melef, which has a safety harness) and enjoy the ride.
The Vision of Escaflowne is currently streaming on Funimation.
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